Qom, arguably the most Islamic city in Iran, is a socially and religiously conflicted city where house churches are hunted down and conversion to Christianity is viewed as an action against national security.
Mohabat News reports Christianity has been growing at an exponential rate in the last couple of decades in Iran, causing the Islamic government a great deal of concern. In a most recent expression of their distress, one of the high profile Islamic seminary officials, Ayatollah Alavi Boroujerdi, stated “accurate reports indicate that the youth are becoming Christians in Qom and attending house churches”.
However, this is not a new development. Earlier reports had also shown a surprising rise in the number of Iranians turning away from Islam and converting to Christianity.
One of the most senior Islamic Shi’ite clerics who has repeatedly expressed his concern over the spread of Christianity among the youth in the country is Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi. He, as well as most of his colleagues blame the foreign influence for the conversion of young Iranians to Christianity. The question that comes up however, is that what could be the real cause for Iranian youths’ rejection of Islam and its principles, despite the serious risks involved with conversion to Christianity in an Islamic country such as Iran?
This high rate of conversion of Iranian youth to Christianity is in spite of rigorous Islamic indoctrination of the youth in their families and educational system. The Islamic government of Iran dedicates massive budgets to the support of Islamic organizations that promote Islam among the youth within and without Iran’s borders. Such efforts to attract Iranian youth is much more noticeable in Islamic cities such as Mashhad and Qom. Regardless of such efforts, Iranian youth seem to become increasingly distant from Islam, which is a cause of great concern for the Iranian Islamic government.
Last year, after Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi expressed his deepest concern over the popularity of Christianity in the suburbs of Mashhad, the city’s religious and political officials immediately sent a vast number of Islamic teachers and preachers to Mashhad’s suburbs in order to turn the youth away from Christianity. The next phase in dealing with this matter was to crack down on the youth who refused to turn back following the efforts of Islamic teachers and preachers. The Iranian law enforcement and intelligence ministry got involved and began waves of arrests and harassment of Christian converts, facing them with long term prison sentences and heavy bails for their temporary release.
Another Iranian Ayatollah, Wahid Khorasani expressed concerns over the spread of Christianity in the country. He said he had received reports about the exponential increase in popularity of Christianity amongst the youth in the Islamic city of Qom. He criticized government authorities “for their negligence in preparing counteracting strategies to stop the spread of Christianity. In his remarks eight years ago, he had encouraged the government authorities to develop a coherent strategy to eradicate Christianity in Iran.
Another Ayatollah, based in Tabriz, stated he had received reports that at one time, 600 residents of one of the cities in Khorasan province had converted to Christianity.
These harsh remarks years ago, led to a rigorous crackdown campaign against the Iranian Christian community, resulting in arrests, imprisonments and disbanding of a number of house church gatherings.
— Failure of Islamic Authorities’ Efforts to Stop the Spread of Christianity
The Iranian Islamic government implemented a two fold plan to stop the spread of Christianity in the country, and it has failed on both fronts.
The first front was the allocation of millions of dollars for Islamic propaganda across the country, which over the years has proven to be ineffective as Iranian youth seem to be distancing themselves from the Islamic lifestyle the Iranian government wishes to spread.
The second front, in which the Iranian government’s Islamic agenda has failed is their crackdown campaign on newly converted Christians in order to plant fear in those who are interested in learning more about Christianity and possibly becoming Christians themselves. This failure is obvious as Iranian Islamic authorities continue to express their concern over the rapid growth of Christianity in the country.
In recent years many Iranian Christian converts have been arrested. However, the rate of growth of house churches in the country has been exponential, despite a mass exodus of Iranian Christians.
In this regard, Ayatollah Jafar Sobhani, one of the high profile Iranian Islamic figures, wrote in a paper a few years ago, “There was a time when Islamic institutions in Qom were sufficient to counter the spread of Christianity in our city. However, today we do not have any Islamic institution in Qom that can stop Christian evangelism effectively”. In his remarks he also referred to the son of one of the Islamic clerics as having become a Christian.
In a report released seven years ago, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards identified 200 house churches in the Islamic city of Mashhad. Other reports indicate this number has grown significantly ever since. Mashhad is known as the Islamic capital of Iran and the Shi’ite Muslim world. Other cities having a record number of house churches in Iran include Rasht, Tehran and Karaj.
In Tehran there are many house churches that meet on a regular basis. One of Tehran’s Imams said in an interview, “today Christians present their gospel to our youth in the most appealing way. They gather in many neighbourhoods across the city, including Bani Hashem neighbourhood (in Tehran) where tens of homes have been turned into house churches which evangelize their neighbours”.
One of the visible effects of the Iranian government’s crackdown on Christians has been the closure of numerous churches, including the Central Assemblies of God (AOG) church and Janat Abad church in Tehran and the AOG church in Ahwaz. Additionally, Christian converts were banned from entering official churches and Farsi services were forced to cancel permanently across the country in all churches. Publication of anything related to Christianity or any material referring to Christianity was also restricted and books about Christianity already in the market were confiscated./ Farsi